The Wadden region is a cultural landscape of exceptional cultural historical value. The present article describes in qualitative terms how the cultural landscape of the Wadden Sea region came about through the complex interaction of people and nature. Human impact on this region has occurred in stages, with changes in the way of life, technology, the organisation of labour and the use of natural and fossil fuels playing a key role. With each stage, the impact of people on the natural environment increased exponentially, bringing with it each time a combination of intended and unintended outcomes. Although technological or organisational innovations meant that people were sometimes successful at overcoming these effects, at other times they were not. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.